The State Of Democracy

In its annual review of the state of democracy around the globe, the nonprofit Freedom House found the disturbing trend of democratic decline continuing for the ninth straight year.

According to the report, nearly twice as many countries suffered declines as registered gains—61 to 33—and the number of countries with improvements hit its lowest point since the nine-year erosion began.

Various global events contributed to the decline, including Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a rollback of democratic gains by Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s intensified campaign against press freedom and civil society, and further centralization of authority in China.

“Until recently, most authoritarian regimes claimed to respect international agreements and paid lip service to the norms of competitive elections and human rights,” said Arch Puddington, vice president for research at Freedom House. “Today they argue for the superiority of what amounts to one-party rule, and seek to throw off the constraints of fundamental diplomatic principles.”

David Farrell responds to dire predictions of democracy’s demise by noting that the halcyon days many remember were not more favorable to democracy than today. Additionally, he says, today’s citizens, particularly the younger generation, “are finding to engage with each other also affects how they engage with the political process” and that more “are active in civil society groups, in protests or boycott campaigns, or are interested in more deliberative forms of engagement” in the political process.

“This may mean they are withdrawing from the electoral process (as shown by turnout trends among younger citizens), but they are not withdrawing from the political process. Perhaps they are just engaging with it differently,” he adds.

Offering a counter-argument is Larry Diamond, a Stanford University democracy expert who has written an extensive essay in this month’s Journal of Democracy in which he contends democracy has been in a global recession for most of the last decade.

The key imperative in the near term, he maintains, is to work to reform and consolidate the democracies that have emerged during the third wave—the majority of which remain illiberal and unstable, if they remain democratic at all. It is vital that democrats in the established democracies not lose faith. Democrats have the better set of ideas. Democracy may be receding somewhat in practice, but it is still globally ascendant in peoples’ values and aspirations.

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